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The BBC's Shirin Wheeler in Brussels
"The Vlaams Blok still have no effective power"
 real 28k

Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 21:41 GMT
Belgian far-right posts poll gains
Election posters in Belgium
The Belgian poll has been watched closely throughout Europe
Belgium's far-right Vlaams Blok party has posted major gains in local elections held on Sunday.

It won 33% of the votes in Belgium's second largest city Antwerp and is now the biggest party in two major Belgian cities.

The elections were closely watched throughout the European Union for any sign of a rise in the far-right vote.

This is a major victory for the Vlaams Blok. I did not expect such a major breakthrough

Vlaams Blok leader Felip Dewinter
Vlaams Blok was already the main party in Antwerp, and supports independence for the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders.

"This is a major victory for the Vlaams Blok. I did not expect this - such a major breakthrough," party leader Filip Dewinter said.

The party and its supporters also want an immediate end to all immigration to Belgium, which they claim is clearly linked with crime.

The polls were seen as a key test of support for the party, which has seen a huge rise in popularity in local and general elections during the last 10 years.

Vlaams Blok's manifesto includes plans to close down mosques, and institute separate schools for the children of immigrants who have failed to integrate.

At last year's general election, the Vlaams Blok became the third largest party in the economically powerful region of Flanders.

Election gains

It wants a separate Flemish state and is trying to extend its reach, particularly in Antwerp where six years ago it became the biggest single party on the city council, winning 28% of the vote.

Vlaams Blok has not held power because of an agreement by all the other parties not to form a coalition with it.

Filip Dewinter, the Vlaams Blok's leader in Antwerp, says he has been inspired by the example of Austria, where the far-right Freedom Party was invited to join the government coalition.

But the political parties in Belgium say they are determined never to co-operate with the Vlaams Blok.

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